As her efforts to “Save the Showbox” continue to reverberate in Seattle land use and legal circles, District 3 representative Kshama Sawant is also putting her political muscle behind Saba, a 12th Ave Ethiopian restaurant facing displacement that has served the neighborhood for nearly 20 years.
“We need your support to call on the current owner, as well as any future owner, to negotiate an agreement that protects Saba Ethiopian Cuisine,” the petition Sawant has championed from Saba Tekle, daughter of the restaurant’s owner, reads. “The new owner could relocate the restaurant across the street, or temporarily relocate the restaurant while new construction is underway.”
Sawant first drew attention to the plight of Saba in September as she included the story of Workie Wubushet’s restaurant in an op-ed about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal.
As of Sunday night, the petition calling for the restaurant to be protected has more than 900 signatures.
According to permits and the design proposal submitted to the city, developers from Isola Homes are lined up to create a six-story, 289-unit apartment building with commercial space and 11 “Live-Work Units,” plus underground parking for 230 vehicles. The property remains under the ownership of a family trust but the developer is lined up to purchase the land. The 9,000 square-foot building Saba has called home dates to 1940, according to King County Records. It is unlikely to qualify for landmarks protections, according to a City of Seattle assessment.
The development planned for the 100-block of 12th Ave is also a showcase in how opaque and distant the process of demolition and revitalization can be from the day to day of a neighborhood street.
But the public process around the development project had already been in motion for months. In April, the city held its first design review for the project. Public comment included statements that “the corner of 12th Avenue and E Yesler Way is very important” and “a gateway for the Central District, Capitol Hill beyond, the International District, and the introduction to the residential neighborhood.” Notes on the session don’t mention the restaurant — not unusual for the architecture-focused reviews. At the end of the April meeting, the board voted to move the project to the next round in the review process. So far, the second “recommendation” phase session has yet to be scheduled.
For more than 18 years we have been in business. But this time next year that may change like for most small business owners because of gentrification.
— Saba (@SabaCuisine) October 13, 2018
The Saba effort comes as Seattle continues to face high rents and an ongoing affordability crisis that some advocates say would be best addressed by aggressively building more housing in the city. But this summer’s efforts to stop development from displacing downtown’s Showbox performance venue seemed to look past that at the long line of lost favorite restaurants, bars, cafes, and landmarks.
It’s a familiar situation on Capitol Hill where a long, sad, parade of old favorites like Piecora’s, Bauhaus, B&O, and the Redwood have most recently faded away. While the neighborhood has an incentive program designed to help preserve the shape and feel of auto row-era Pike/Pine buildings, efforts around creating a “Legacy Business Program” in Seattle have never gone beyond a study.
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